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DECEMBER 24, 2003

Commerce’s Collins Sees Playing Time In First Official Season With Clemson
Peach Bowl Next Up For Former Tiger Receiver
Former Commerce star Michael Collins will conclude his first collegiate season in uniform Jan. 2 when his Clemson Tiger team meets Tennessee — his former team ironically — in the Peach Bowl.
Collins sat out the previous two seasons, the first as a redshirt for the Volunteers in 2001 and then again in 2002 in compliance with NCAA rules after transferring to Clemson.
Collins lined up at wide out in limited duty for Clemson this year as the majority of the Tigers’ passes went to their talented receiving trio of Kevin Youngblood, Airese Currie and Derrick Hamilton.
The three combined to catch 163 passes for 2,300 yards and 16 touchdowns.
However, Collins was able to to log his first collegiate receptions, snagging four passes for 49 yards in 2003.
His first catch in college game was a 16-yarder Oct. 11 in Clemson’s 30-27 win over Virginia.
He then caught two passes for 20 yards in the Tigers’ loss at Wake Forest Nov. 11 and hauled in one more Nov. 15 in Clemson’s 40-7 rout of Duke.
Collins, who will be a junior next season, should see the ball much more in 2004 in the Tigers’ wide-open offense, especially if any of Clemson’s top receivers turn pro.
Collins is getting the chance to play in a bowl game this year thanks to a late-season turn around by Clemson.
Through nine games, the Tigers were 5-4 and had been routed 45-10 by Wake Forest before stunning Florida State 26-10, beating Duke and embarrassing rival South Carolina 63-17 to close the regular season.
Collins had three years of experience at receiver in high school, racking up 2,339 yards in three years before switching to quarterback his senior season in helping Commerce claim the Class A state title.
Collins is the school’s all-time leading receiver.


An exercise in mental toughness
BCHS strong man challenge isn’t typical weight training group
Molding good athletes means more than building strength, power and speed. A lot of it has to do with mental toughness.
And Banks County High School has started a program to work on not just the physical aspect, but the mental one as well. It’s called the Strong Man Challenge.
“You have to dig down deep to get it done,” said coach Tim Bragg of the events that make up the challenge. “Not a lot of athletes have that mental toughness.”
The challenge consists of several different events, though the participants will only do two of them at any given competition.
The events are similar to those seen on TV in the World’s Strongest Man competitions. There’s the stone lift and carry, where competitors lift a huge stone and carry it as far as they can.
Then there’s the tire flip. Participants must pick up and flip a large tractor tire as many times as possible. Another event is the weight drag, in which a competitor drags a weighted sled forward and then backward.
The events include the crucifix, which requires participants to hold a weight in each hand with their arms stretched straight out from their body. The strong man challenge also includes a clean and press with a barbell loaded down with truck wheels and tires.
But perhaps the event that was the biggest draw for spectators when Bragg worked with a similar program in Habersham County was the tractor pull. In Banks County, it has been modified into a truck pull.
Bragg said that while he was at Habersham County, the event drew a large number of spectators to watch the students compete in the events.
“Something about it draws a crowd,” he said. “I think it can take off here because of the uniqueness of it.”
Though getting spectators is an added bonus, providing entertainment isn’t the sole purpose of the program. Instead, it’s used as a supplement to normal weight training with the goal of building stronger and more powerful athletes.
“We want to build that natural, country strong that farmers and mechanics and brick masons have built form years of hard work,” Bragg said. “This gives a spin on old-fashioned hard work.”
The Strong Man Challenge is open to all students in the school. But to become a part of the selective group, prospective competitors have to be able to perform all the events. Failure in any one events puts the student out until he or she can do the event and gain redemption.
“The work load we do is tremendous,” Bragg said. “It takes a lot of mental toughness that most students don’t have.”
The group competes each Tuesday and Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at the high school field house. Competitors are scored on how well they do and spectators are free to come and watch the events.
Bragg said he hopes to one day start a lineman challenge with other surrounding schools to bring in area football lineman to compete against one another.


Monday’s Keen Classic full of several top-notch teams
Some 10 teams will converge on Jefferson High School on Monday to take part in the Keen Classic wrestling tournament, named for former JHS coach Jack Keen.
For Jefferson this season has been remarkably successful thus far considering the circumstances. Head coach Doug Thurmond noted that the squad has had to deal with several setbacks early this season, but have been able to remain strong nonetheless.
One of the primary factors that have affected the Dragons so far has been injuries. This past weekend at the Starr’s Mill Invitational the squad took third, but could have easily finished second had they not encountered injury problems.
Although Thurmond declined to comment specifically about the extent of the injuries on his team, he did note that the 16 points Jefferson finished behind the second place team from Starr’s Mill, would likely have been overcome if not for the banged up Dragons, three of which were forced to retire.
“We’re just wanting to get well right now,” Thurmond said. “It’s a little frustrating right now, but I’m pleased with where we’re at...we’re just aiming for February.”
Thurmond noted that there are “several” Jefferson grapplers that are “questionable” for this Monday’s Keen Classic.
Those taking part in this year’s event include a number of ranked teams from throughout the state. Among the Class A schools, Jefferson (No. 1), Landmark Christian (No. 4), Social Circle (No. 5), and Commerce (No. 9) are scheduled to compete. Other ranked teams include Class AA schools No. 1 Dawson County, No. 7 Lumpkin County and No. 10 Oglethorpe County.


Winning another close one
MCHS boys outlast Oglethorpe County
Raider head coach Steve Crouse said he wanted to create a rivalry-type atmosphere with his team’s two-game series with boarder-foe Oglethorpe County this year.
Well, after a 56-55 Madison County win over the Patriots Friday, plenty of tickets are sure to be sold for round two Jan. 17 at Oglethorpe’s Independence Hall — though Crouse might want to take a bottle of Tums to that one.
“A lady in the grocery store told me that’s the most she’s seen a crowd get into a game in the last four or five years,” the Raider head coach said of this past weekend’s nail-bitter. “So the fans are enjoying it, even though it gives me heartburn.”
Thanks to the win, Madison County takes a three-game winning streak — the Raiders’ longest under Crouse — into the upcoming Commerce holiday tournament as it will face Athens Academy in the opening round Monday.
All three victories in that stretch have come by six or less points. In all, the team has had six of its nine games decided by that close a margin with Madison County winning five.
So while the team seems to be learning how to win the close ones, Crouse hopes that his group can start finishing foes off before the final minute. At times, he said, his squad is making it closer than it has to be.
“In some of those games we’ve had double digit leads, so that’s the next step — learning how to put a game away by making defensive stops and not giving up the easy baskets. If a team makes a run, we’ve got to learn how to take the run out of them.”
That’s something that didn’t happen in the dramatic win over Oglethorpe County as Madison County allowed the Patriots to pull even in the final minute after leading by 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Thanks, though, to a free throw by Matt Seawright with 28 seconds left and a defensive stop on the other end, Madison County hung on for a 56-55 win.
While the team showed flashes of its potential in the victory, Crouse said his group shouldn’t have allowed the game to reach the drama level which it did. The coach felt his team should have “put the nail in the coffin” when Oglethorpe County trailed by double digits late.
“We had our moments against Oglethorpe and then we had moments where we tried to give it away,” he said.
Still, there was something to be said for holding off the sharp-shooting Patriots who hit 12 three pointers and “did an excellent job of shooting their way back into the game” Crouse added.
Madison County sealed the win by fouling Oglethorpe — which was not in the bonus — with one second remaining and forced a close-range miss on the Patriots’ in-bounds play as the buzzer sounded.
“They made a big push but we withstood their push and won,” he said. “We had a foul to give and we executed that well. And when they’ve got a shot right under their goal, you’ve got to play tough defense which we did. I’m pleased with how we responded in a late-game situation.”
Senior post player Russ Drake continues to be the team’s go-to guy, scoring 20 points Friday to lead the team in that department for the fourth straight game.
Drake came alive in the third quarter, scoring 10 points in the period to help Madison County increase a five-point lead at the half to 11 going into the fourth.
Drake is averaging 17 points a game the last four games.
While Drake is showing up the most in the scorebook, Crouse said everybody on the team seems to contributing something to the team at different parts of a game.
The coach pointed out that Tobias Gantt had a big first quarter Friday night with six points as well as noting the play of Josh Booker, who knocked down some big three pointers in his eight-point night.
Crouse added that Bryan Bird “did some good things” as well, scoring 12 points and said that Micah Sales and Marcus Shivers continue to give the team a lift off the bench.
And then there was Seawright’s clutch free throw which was the deciding point in the ball game.
“Everybody’s starting to realize what they can do,” he said. “And Russ right now is on a roll. But if someone stops him, we’ve got to have another guy who can step up.”
Madison County will now face a foe in Athens Academy that plays a similar brand of slow-down basketball as it looks to run its winning streak to four games.
The Spartans will feature guard Zack Oliver and forward Adam Crunk and “a couple of kids who can get down the court and shoot it well,” Crouse said.
Still, Madison County should matchup well.
“They don’t have anybody that’s bigger than we are and don’t have anyone who’s speedier,” the coach said.
Crouse added that his team is excited about playing in a tournament atmosphere. Madison County won the Commerce Holiday Classic last winter
“We’re excited about it. We had success in it last year. It’s a great tournament. The gym is packed and the people really come out.”


Little things’ have Panthers on win streak
Funny thing about sports, sometimes the smallest details can mean the world to a struggling team.
Nowhere was that adage more noticable than at The Pit last Friday night as the Jackson County boys finally picked up their first win, 10 games into the season.
However, if you ask those familiar with the Panthers there wasn’t all that much different about their performance on the court last weekend. But, it was accomplishing those “little things” that it takes to pull out a win that enabled Jackson County to knock off Apalachee 49-40.
“Basically we just executed better,” head coach Richard Crumley said.
“On offense we were just more patient, we took care of the basketball and we started finishing inside.”
With the win the Panthers may now have overcome their biggest hurdle this season — getting that first win monkey off their backs. Case in point was the team’s performance Saturday night against Banks County, where they picked up their second win of the season.
“I think now that we did win a game, and when you talk about statistically what we needed to do to win, the guys saw what it takes,” Crumley said.
With the brunt of their schedule still ahead of them, the liklihood of Jackson County (2-9) still being able to salvage this season exists, especially considering most of their important games lie ahead.
“When we get back in January, that’s when we start the real part of our season,” Crumley said. “We’re just looking forward to the region.”
Until then though, it appears that the Panthers will continue to practice hard and work on those details that enabled them to end their nine-game losing streak last weekend.

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